"That is Some John Wayne Shit"
There is a great movie here somewhere. Unfortunately, Steven Spielberg already made it with his version of War of the Worlds. Spielberg took the H.G. Wells concept of Martians tearing up the bucolic English countryside, made it urban U.S.A. (via the "War of the Worlds" broadcast of the Mercury Radio Theater) and took it in a decidedly post-9/11 direction, focussing on an enemy's bewilderingly unfathomable "other"-ness, the utter devastation of a hi-tech civilization's infrastructure, and forced American viewers to confront a vision they might not have broached during the quiet desperation of their daily lives: this country's version of refugees.
At the same time, he completed a trilogy of stories (started with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) in which men-children must confront their sense of wonder (or disbelief) and use the knowledge of worlds not their own (and the beings in them) to jump-start their consciousness beyond their limited world-view, and, in a sense, grow young with the Universe by growing up and accepting the responsibilities of their positions. The Heavens conspire to ground them.
There is nothing like this kind of deep-thought in Battle: Los Angeles. This is a war-movie of the modern era (but only technologically, the script is cliched with "boo-ya-speak") with Transformers instead of Talliban. The film-makers (director Jonathan Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini) hedge their bets (and budget) by narrowing the focus of the story to one regiment fighting an armada of Erector Set exo-skeletoned aliens through the back allies of Santa Monica, California, attempting to secure a lone offensive while evacuating a handful of civilians. The global conflict happens in the background on television monitors (the reason for the attack is some pundit-theorist's idea that they want our water, but it's only lip-flap for a half-hearted rationale), we just get to see the street skirmishes of this rag-tag clutch of war-hardened dog-faces as they battle the 'bots and each other not far from the pier.*
The action looks like Iraq and Afghanistan (and now, God help us, Libya), filmed in a confused snatch-and-grab style, but Liebesman gives you little context or overview, so it all just looks confused, as opposed to caught in reality—things only chill out for FX-heavy vista shots—Restrepo between Pico and Pier Street. And try as they might to make it feel authentic with shouted overlapping dialogue, there's just too much jargon of what Full Metal Jacket author Gustav Hasford called "the phony-tough and the crazy-brave." It may walk and shake like CNN, but it talks like The Sands of Iwo Jima. It's not relatable. It's not personal. It's not horrifying. You don't feel this war. You don't dodge the heat-rays and tracer rounds in your theater-seats. It's as engaging as watching it on Fox News. That is, not at all. Eat your popcorn and wait for the armistice.
And I could quibble about the Intelligence gathering here. Sure, they figure out that the sudden meteor showers are an invasion force pretty quickly, but the fighters fall as quickly as George Lucas' storm-troopers and battle-droids. The attacks happen fast and devastatingly, but the things look electricity-based; one overhead nuclear pulse would take everything out. Game Over. It's shooting tin-cans then. But, that never happens. Instead, each city has an alien Command Central that controls everything in its area. Isn't there a signal that can be jammed? The only time Battle: LA gets interesting is when one of the "spam-in-a-can" fighters gets captured, and Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, trying very hard to rise above) and a civilian veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan) start a triage vivisection to answer the question "Okay, how do you kill one of these things?" Now, that feels about right, practical strategy and the horrors of war combined in one icky sequence. The rest just seems like contrivance, a recruitng feature for the Marines that won't offend any minority group. A war movie shouldn't feel that safe.
A little bit better than the excremental Skyline, but not good.
Battle: Los Angeles is a Cable-Watcher.
* Inspired by the P.A. announcemnts from M*A*S*H
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Battle: Los Angeles